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What Is A Toxic Relationship?

Having a network of supportive friends and family can be a vital component of long-term sobriety. As you get sober, it is important to evaluate the relationships in your life and surround yourself with people who encourage you to be the person you want to be. Going to treatment is a good opportunity to review the presence of each person in your life and start the process of distancing yourself from anyone who might be keeping you sick or jeopardizing your sobriety.

Unfortunately, there may be people in your life who cause you negativity and stress or who trigger you to use, even if they don’t mean to. There might also be people who are either unwilling or incapable of supporting you in trying to get better. Maybe you have an old drinking buddy who can’t understand why you want to change or an old friend who has trouble accepting that you ever had a serious drinking or drug problem. It is important to your recovery to let go of relationships that keep you from getting better and to distance yourself from people who haven’t yet learned how to support you.

How do you know when a relationship is toxic? Any relationship can take on toxic elements, even between people who love each other very much. As circumstances in life change, sometimes it can be hard for loved ones to continually support and accept each other, especially if changes in the relationship threaten a person’s sense of security. This can lead to toxic relationship qualities like codependence, enabling, complex resentment, and shaming.

In deciding which relationships to lean on as you make the transition into sober life, simply asking yourself if each person supports and encourages you in recovering can be a good place to start. There are also several indicators of toxic relationships common in early recovery.

First, if someone tries to convince you that you should start drinking or using again, that is likely a toxic relationship which says more about the other person’s needs than your own. For people who use or drink heavily, a friend getting sober might serve as an unwelcome look in the mirror. Unfortunately, these friends might lash out at you for wanting to change or try to convince you that you aren’t really an addict. No matter where their motivation is coming from, if people in your life question or discourage your sobriety, then they are not capable of being supportive of you right now, and it might be time to put that friendship on hold.

You may also have friends and family members who are eager to see you get sober, yet have a hard time maintaining healthy boundaries. Many times, these relationships become enabling, which can be a threat to your sobriety. A loved one who means well but is overprotective or controlling of your recovery could be making it harder for you to become independent and self-reliant, which are important traits for long-term sobriety.

Enabling loved ones often have a history of doing things that made it easier for you to function as an addict, like driving you to the liquor store or paying your bills. Although actions like this are often done out of love and concern for your well being, they also insulate addicts from the real consequences of their behavior, which makes it easier to keep using. In sobriety, you need to learn how to function without the enabling loved ones who seek to shield you from real life.

Another toxic relationship common to early recovery is the old friend who is still using or drinking and triggers your addiction. Drugs and alcohol change the way you behave and interact, and as you get sober, you might find that you start to feel more like your old self, the way you were before you started abusing substances. However, you likely have friends from your addiction who know you primarily as the person you were when you were drunk or high, and being around these friends can be risky if it triggers you into old behaviors, thoughts, and feelings.

If a person or situation reminds you of the adaptive qualities you developed in addiction, like unhealthy risk taking or pleasure seeking, guilt and shame, or being emotionally shut down, it might trigger these defenses to come back to the surface, which can eventually lead you back to using. Even if friends who still use are fully supportive of your recovery, being around them might be too hard right now. It will help to do extensive work with your sponsor and share within your recovery circle before attempting to enter high risk situations like this.

In the next blog in this series, we will look at strategies for letting go of toxic relationships so that you can focus on yourself and developing a supportive network.